FORT MYERS, FLA. – It can be a devastating pitch once harnessed, able to make experienced hitters look like summer league hackers. But Major League Baseball is full of pitchers who just can’t get the proper feel for a changeup.
Besides that, the pitch must be delivered with the same motion as when they are throwing a fastball. Failure to perfect a changeup has turned starters into relievers or sent pitchers out of the majors altogether.
That’s what makes righthander Mike Morin one of the more interesting cases in Twins spring training camp.
Morin, 27, throws two kinds of changeups. He hopes he can fluster enough hitters in camp to make the Twins take a serious look at him.
“You watch a kid like Mike Morin throw a changeup and it is 72, 74 miles an hour,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer. “Then he can throw a 92-mph [fastball]. That’s an incredible speed differential. That’s value for him.”
The Twins have had off-speed maestros such as Brad Radke and Johan Santana in past seasons. Some pitchers, like Mike Pelfrey, never could find the right feel for one. Current ones, like hard-throwing 24-year-old Fernando Romero, have struggled to perfect one — one reason why Romero is headed to the bullpen this season.
Morin — trying to stand out among a crowded field of contenders for the bullpen — has thrown six scoreless innings this spring, giving up two hits and a walk while using his changeups to strike out six.
On Wednesday, Morin pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning during the Twins’ 9-5 victory over Boston, striking out two.
“He’s been in the zone pretty much the entire time and the hitters haven’t seemed to see him or take many good swings off him,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, “so he’s had a very nice camp.”
According to FanGraphs.com, Morin’s average fastball last season was 91.8 mph, while his changeup came in at 74.4. Any difference in velocity in double digits between the two pitches is considered splendid in a sport in which a hitter has between two-tenths to three-tenths of a second to decide to swing.
Morin’s 17-mph average differential is ridiculous. He’s actually thrown a changeup as slow as 69 miles per hour in his career. In camp, he’s thrown a 92-mph fastball and 72-mph changeup to the same hitter.
“That’s a Bugs Bunny changeup,” Falvey said. “And he does it without slowing his arm down.”
Morin was born in Andover, but his family moved to the Kansas City suburbs during his infancy.
“I have a couple of aunts and uncles who still live in the Twin Cities,” Morin said. “I grew up in Kansas City but, whether it was a family reunion or something else, I’m relatively familiar with the Twin Cities.”
He didn’t develop a changeup until his senior year at Shawnee Mission South High School and remembers how uncomfortable the grip felt. But he stuck with it, and signed with the Angels after being drafted in the 13th round in 2012 draft. Two years later his changeup, which would fade away from righthanded hitters, was getting hit by lefthanded hitters.
“I had to adapt my first year in Triple-A,” he said. “When you start facing more advanced hitters, now I’m throwing it right into their barrels. It’s basically the same grip, just moving over on the seams.”
Now he throws an off-speed pitch to lefthanded hitters that veers straight down or can fade away from them. He debuted in the majors in 2014, posting a 2.90 ERA in 60 games with the Angels, but has bounced between the majors and minors since. He was claimed off waivers by Kansas City in 2017 and by Seattle after that season. He signed with the Twins in December as a nonroster invite.
He continues to hone all his pitches — he also throws a slider — while waiting for his next shot at the majors, which could come with the Twins at some point this season. If he succeeds in the majors, it will be because he can disrupt hitters’ timing with a pitch few are able to throw well.
“It’s my gift,” Morin said. “That’s one thing I’ve realized I’m good at doing, throwing a 72-mile-an-hour changeup.”